VIENNA, Va. - Authorities in Fairfax County are warning residents after several recent reports of bear sightings in residential neighborhoods.
On Thursday morning, one Vienna couple glanced out their kitchen window at their home in the 2700 block of Bowling Green Drive to discover it looked like someone had a wild party overnight on their patio.
“We were kind of confused at first, but I had heard that there were bears in Vienna,” said the homeowner named Whitney. “So that was actually my first thought – ‘Whoa, I wonder if the bears made it over to our house.’”
The bears had and a quick peek outside revealed they were still there.
“Sure enough, two black bears were kind of ambling and walking through,” Whitney described. “One looked to be a mom bear, an adult-size bear with a smaller bear with her.”
The bears were still hanging out between their backyard fence and a sound wall for Interstate 66 just feet from their back door.
“They had stolen apparently a bag of birdseed from our cabinet and dragged it into woods with them,” Whitney said. “The baby went over and was kind of playing with the bag and eating from the bag for a little while and they just kind of roamed around and eventually disappeared.”
You would expect to hear a sighting like this from someone who lives in the woods. But police actually said this is one of several reports from a residential neighborhood and other parts of the Vienna/Oakton area.
Police said two black bears were also seen crossing Oakton Road in Oakton Wednesday morning. In addition, there was also a sighting of a bear and cub on Sunday.
Don't panic if you see them too. Whitney said she and her husband didn’t either.
“I wasn’t too nervous because I think that they would probably be more scared of us if we ran out there, but we certainly want to keep our distance,” she said.
That is the best advice from police – keep a respectful distance if you do see bears and remove anything from your yard they might view as food.
“We need to clean up the mess and get rid of the birdseed, but I think that once they learn there is nothing here, they probably won’t come back and will kind of move on.," said Whitney.
The Fairfax County Wildlife Management Specialist and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries suggest residents take these precautions to minimize encounters with black bears:
- Keep a respectful distance from the bear. It will move on quickly in most instances.
- Give the bear space and do not approach it if it is up a tree or near your property. Bring your pets inside to give the bear a clear path to leave.
- Do not try to remove or “save” a small cub from an area.
- Remove food sources to discourage the bear from returning.
- Do not store trash or anything that smells like food in cars or on porches or decks.
- Make sure to keep your trash containers secured in a garage, shed or basement.
- Take your trash out in the morning if you use a trash collection service, not the night before.
- If you have a bird-feeder and a bear visits, take down your bird-feeder for 3 to 4 weeks.
- Encourage your neighbors to take similar precautions to minimize bears.
Note that Animal Control Officers do not take actions to attempt to remove bears from a neighborhood unless the animal is sick or injured, or poses a threat to public safety.
If you do see a bear, report it to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries through the Virginia Wildlife Conflict Helpline at 855-571-9003.